Buyouts and mushrooms! Cut to the chase: What they have in common is that both are valuable (especially those that grow in the Defense Department) and both are exceedingly hard to find. And the odds are you will never taste either.
So far, Federal News Radio has found only three civilians who got buyouts. They worked in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Army, Navy and the Air Force have the authority to offer civilian workers up to $40,000 (before deductions) if they will take regular or early retirement within the next 12 months. Congress is expected to extend the $40K Defense-only benefit through Sept. 30, 2021. Buyouts in the rest of the government are limited to the 1990s level of $25,000.
The first round of $25K buyouts came as the Clinton administration was downsizing government. It was particularly anxious to get older, long-time males who had military service (therefore veterans preference protection) to leave under their own steam. Many were blue-collar workers in shipyards, depots and military bases. Officials feared that if they ran a regular reduction in force, it would be costly, time-consuming and hit the wrong people: thousands of young, new-to-government workers (many of them women and minorities) who lacked veterans preference protection and most vulnerable under the last-hired-first-fired RIF rules. So $25,000 worked for everybody. Eventually, they were extended to other federal agencies and thousands of people got paid to go.
But that was then. This is now. Defense is remaking itself to face new foes (North Korea and Iran) as well as the usual threats: China and Russia. All of them are using new weapons — i.e. computer hackers, satellites and drones — that require people with new and different skill sets. Officials are also concerned that the military is overstretched with many doing multiple tours in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the growing number of mostly off-the-radar missions in Yemen and Africa. The Navy has been rocked with problems, from the so-called Fat Leonard sex-and-payoffs scandal involving high-ranking officers, to more recent actions against two Navy captains and an admiral over the fatal collisions of two warships in the Pacific.
“There’s this feeling that lots of things are broken or worn out, and we need new methods and we need new people, especially new people” to get it done, a retired Defense HR expert said.
An official from a group that monitors federal personnel issues said there is “always the suspicion that buyouts don’t always go to the right people.” He said he heard many feds in the 1990s say that the buyouts were often seen as the equivalent of a gold watch as a going-away gift. “I heard of one agency that limited its buyouts to good-old-boys who were gonna retire anyhow, but left with an extra $25,000.”
Employees at two of the agencies targeted by the Trump administration for major downsizing/punishment say they’ve heard talk that the new team may use RIFs instead of $25,000 buyouts. Federal News Radio could not confirm that with officials of the agency or watchdog groups whose stated role is to protect the agency and its mission.
Federal News Radio reported yesterday that the Interior and Veterans Affairs departments were making plans to move jobs and functions out of the metro D.C. area. That sounds like a page from the Clinton administration playbook. It targeted what it called “overhead” jobs and functions for cutbacks and consolidations. Many functions were either privatized (given to contractors) or consolidated, which many feds at the time said all but wrecked some agency HR offices and services. For more on that, click here.
Meantime for retirement-eligible Defense workers, the good news is that the higher buyouts appear to be here to stay. They are definitely out there. Now the trick, as with the $1,000-per-pound mushrooms, is finding them.